The Government is under pressure amid the economic downturn to change rules barring more than 80 per cent of architectural firms from working on public building projects. The Hong Kong Institute of Architects is lobbying for changes to consultant selection rules it argues are unreasonable and make it almost impossible for small or new firms to land government work. To be eligible for such work, firms must be at least five years old, employ five architects and have recent experience on a construction project costing at least $200 million. The institute argues these rules are inconsistent with the Government's stance of encouraging people to set up businesses in tough times as an alternative to seeking employment. Several experienced architects had recently set up new firms due to the economic downturn, the institute said in one of a recent series of letters to the Government. There was no reason simple projects, such as sitting-out areas or police posts, would require firms with such a high level of qualifications, the institute argued. During the past four months, it has written to Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, the Works Bureau and the Architectural Services Department calling for change, according to copies posted on its Web site. The institute says only 20 to 30 of more than 160 architectural firms are eligible for public works. The restriction made life particularly difficult for creative young architects just starting out, with some firms abandoning traditional architecture in favour of other occupations such as interior design during the economic downturn, the honorary secretary of the institute, Wong Wah-sang, said. He said the Government had not yet responded to their pleas. The institute wants a system where all registered architectural firms would be eligible for government work but would be graded as suitable for certain categories of work based on their size and experience. A Works Bureau spokeswoman said a consultation paper on choosing architects and other consultants was being prepared. The Government had adhered to principles of transparency, open and fair competition, accountability and value for money in selecting consultants for public works projects, she said.